WASHINGTON DC:The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) has finessed its way into Fortune magazine's Power 25 list of top lobbying firms - thanks to an inspired PR campaign that saved the credit unions from potential disaster.
CUNA, which only two years ago was on the verge of financial ruin, rocketed from 70th place to 8th, in the survey published last week, just behind well-established Beltway powerhouses such as AARP, NRA and AFL-CIO. The American Bankers Association slipped from 12th place to 20th.
The new ranking was achieved after overturning a Supreme Court ruling in February which had prohibited credit unions from expanding to cover larger groups of employees.
The ruling was seen as a death sentence, according to CUNA president and CEO Dan Mica. '(The ruling) would have effectively cut off our means to grow.'
Mica assembled a top-notch management team, and employed the DC-based office of Hill &Knowlton to advise on public affairs and media relations strategy.
'We had the good fortune to have the support of a credit union movement ground in volunteerism,' said Mica.
With Mica's staff handling logistics in Washington, CUNA's network of affiliated state credit union 'leagues' took the message to credit union customers. Mica had to hire an outside firm to sort the deluge of signatures when a petition to Congress was drawn up.
'Our first strategy was to remember that our strength was based on political sentiment that existed in hundreds of thousand communities,' said Tom Buckmaster, chairman of H&K Public Affairs Worldwide, and general manager of the firm's Washington DC office.
'Too often people mount grassroots campaigns that are based on manufacturing a sense of political sentiment - it's the difference between Cheez Whiz and Wisconsin cheddar,' said Buckmaster.
Mica added that he hopes CUNA will build on the victory achieved with the passage (by a landslide margin) of the Credit Union Membership Access Act on August 7, with national branding identified as a key issue at a meeting held in Phoenix earlier this month.
Other major risers in the Power 25 survey included the Independent Insurance Agents of America, up 15 places to 12th; and the American Council of Life Insurance, up 21 places to 23rd.